Alexa Gedigian is a student at the University of Florida and a member of the all-female a cappella group: The Sedoctaves. This is her first review for The A Cappella Blog.
On February 18, 2012, the University of Florida hosted an International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) South Quarterfinal. The event took place in Lincoln Middle School’s auditorium in Gainesville, Fla.
There were eight groups competing, representing three Florida universities:
University of Florida’s No Southern Accent
University of Miami’s Above The Keys
Florida State University’s AcaBelles
Florida State University’s All-Night Yahtzee
Florida State University’s Reverb
University of Central Florida’s Crescendudes
University of Miami’s BisCaydence
University of Central Florida’s So Noted
Host Group: University of Florida’s The Staff
The University of Florida’s all-male group The Staff started the evening off with Bruno Mars’s “Valerie.” The Motown vibe of this Amy Winehouse remake had the whole audience grooving before the competitors even hit the stage. Lindsay Howerton of Varsity Vocals took the stage next with the standard announcements, and brought out the night’s fabulous emcees, both of who are alumni from Florida State University’s AcaBelles, Diana and Courtney.
The first group of the night was No Southern Accent, the University of Florida’s co-ed a cappella group, wearing a sophisticated mix of black and gray. Their set began with “Lost in the World,” by Kanye West featuring Bon Iver. The group was placed in various positions and facing different directions. The effect was dramatic, especially when soloist Alex Greene came in with no accompaniment from the center of the stage. Slowly, the sound grew as several group members began their parts at different times before the vocal percussion by Nic Parsons came in. This was really nice to watch and captivated the audience as new voices melded with others. The rap and second solo by Brian Jones was a nice touch as well. There was a lot of unison within the parts and octave intervals across the groups, and this lacked a bit of interest. I would have liked to hear more of the strong harmonies from the middle section.
The second song, “Hold My Heart,” by Sara Bareilles featured soloist Danielle Logan, who showed a lot of restraint in a very moving performance. The first verse was a bit sparse, but picked up during the chorus. The second verse showcased Logan’s voice very nicely as she was able to let loose and show a beautiful soprano range. The best part of the song was the bridge in which the group backed up Logan with a solid base and a nice harmony. Dynamically, this song had movement, notably moving into the second verse and chorus. Though the beginning was a little weak, the rest of the piece was nicely done. I liked hearing the tenor stand outs; the parts were pure and not distracting. The group blend on this song was on point.
For their final piece, “Electric Feel,”by MGMT/Justice, No Southern Accent shook things up by taking off various pieces of clothing (yes, you read that correctly) to reveal electric blue clothing and accessories. I loved that they decided to add a pop of color, and each group member had a different blue article of clothing or accessory that gave a nice touch of personality, including blue sunglasses, suspenders, and a watch. It was nice to have a real upbeat song to close out the set, since the other two songs were not fast-paced. I wish the background vocals matched the pace of the vocal percussion because it felt like the vocal percussion was being held back by long sets of “oohs” and “ahhs.” Blend could have been better on this song as there were voices and parts standing out. Soloist CJ Wittus played the part of the cool, fun guy of the piece and the chemistry between him and Emily Sturm, who came in later, was good. The break down at the end was a nice contrast to some of the vocal unity we heard earlier, and this song was easily the most dynamic of the entire set. This was a good way to end the show, but I wish the group would have had this much energy and fun the entire time.
The second group competing was from the University of Miami called Above The Keys. The all-male group took the stage with black slacks, black dress shirts--with rolled sleeves--and orange ties. The first song they sang was a hilarious version of “Jessie’s Girl,” by Rick Springfield, complete with a guy acting as “Jessie” and another acting as his girl. They quite literally “played along with this charade” for the entire piece, acting out the song. They brought so much energy that it was palpable from my second row seat. The choreography was a little much for my taste, but all-male groups tend to get away with overdoing it on that front. The bridge had a lot of interesting group sounds and was fun to listen to. The solo tired out a bit by the end of the song, but was also was fighting with a huge sound coming from the group. This was a really fun start and gave the audience a sense of the group.
The next song in their set was Coldplay’s “Fix You.” I love this song, but as far as song selection goes, this one is like playing Russian roulette. I’ve heard it referred to as, “the kiss of death” in the a cappella community, because so many groups have performed this song in almost every conceivable arrangement. If a group wants to take this on, they need to blow it out of the water. Unfortunately for Above The Keys, this was not one of the best versions of this song out there. The unison at the beginning was a nice touch, especially leading in to the chords. I really liked the low solo from Ben Jassin, since so many guys try to take this in Coldplay’s original key, and he did a pretty good. The falsetto later on seemed weak compared to the warm baritone. The trio in the bridge was a little strange for me and didn’t have the same power of the original song. There were also some lyric problems. All in all, this song needed to be flawless to wow the judges, and just didn’t live up super high expectations.
Costume changes seemed to be a staple of this ICCA quarterfinal, because the boys started taking off their dress shirts and ties, revealing frat tanks and tees, and in one case, a bare chest. They then began what I like to call a medley of college anthems: an LMFAO Medley featuring “Party Rock Anthem,” and “Shots.” Although this was a great way to showcase their personalities again, it didn’t show off their vocal strength, and the background vocals were lost in the mayhem. The audience loved the performance though, and who wouldn’t with such great energy. They ended on a good note with a play on their hometown by proclaiming, “I’m in Miami ---!”
The third group to compete was Florida State University’s AcaBelles, and these ladies are no stranger to ICCA performances and awards. Their first song “Gold Digger/For the Love of Money” by Kanye West and The O’Jays featured a lot of soloists, which could have easily broken down into confusion. Not with The AcaBelles though. This was one of my favorite arrangements of the night, because who ever sits down and thinks, “Hey, you know ‘Gold Digger’ would make an awesome a cappella song”? They took a dirty rap song and turned it around into a fabulous girl power piece. The girls are so comfortable on stage and with each other, and the choreography was effortless. Brianna Calderon-Roman had an incredible solo and absolutely owned her part. I also loved the spotlight on Christina Jimenez with a super low alto solo. This group has incredible range, and they showcased every inch of it. The leather jackets, black sneakers with pink laces, and pink feather earrings were both tough and girly. This was a great way to start their set.
They transitioned into their second piece, Michael Jackson’s “Dirty Diana.” I heard the AcaBelles sing this exact arrangement at SoJam last November, and was completely blown away. This time seemed a bit weaker in comparison, and the soloist sounded out of breath in the beginning, but got more comfortable as the song progressed. The dynamics were very interesting and built up suspense. The choreography was very good, even being as simple as pacing in the opposite direction of the soloist. I wasn’t a fan of what should have been the biggest part of the song; it seemed like the soloist was pushing to speed up and the song got a bit frenzied. Overall, this song remains one of my favorites from the FSU ladies because of the strength of pretty flawless background vocals.
The third song “Stay” by Shakespeare’s Sisters came directly from the previous piece, with only soloist Kenley Flowers to lead the group into the right key. This was really impressive because they relied on the previous song and not on a pitch pipe. The solo was very lovely and controlled. The low alto solo was a bit out of place for me, but Tatiana Penagos sang it with a lot of confidence. Again, the group had beautiful blend and dynamics, which seem to be a calling card for the AcaBelles. The facial expressions from the group were very well done, and there was a lot of good dynamic contrast between the verses and choruses.
The final piece was “Shake It Out,” by Florence and the Machine. It is so hard to measure up to an artist like Florence because she has such an interesting sound, but Brittany Morrill made it her own with an honest rendition. The vocal percussion for the entire set was solid, and the choreography was well placed. One thing that The AcaBelles always do well is act like choreography is completely inherent and not something that they have to do; they make it look so natural and easy. A really great way to end a stellar set.
Next up was another Florida State group, but this time it was co-ed All-Night Yahtzee wearing black with red accents. I liked the choice of song for their first piece, “Without You,” by David Guetta featuring Usher because it lends itself well to a cappella with interesting chords. There was a lot of chemistry between soloists Michael Anaya and Caitlin Robertson, and the call and response part of the chorus was very cool. The vocal percussion was great, and I could not believe that it was all coming from Tiffany Ashfield. I don’t think she breathed the entire set. The choreography for this piece seemed out of place and rather distracting. The group was most effective and sounded best when just jamming out together.
Their second song was Adele’s “Turning Tables,” a bold song choice, given the amount of popularity she has and the amount of a cappella versions of her songs that are around right now. I appreciate that soloist Chelsey Strawbridge did not try to be Adele and instead made it her own. The choreography for this piece was much more cohesive with the song. The arrangement was interesting, but felt a bit bass-heavy at times. The blend of group was really nice though and carried the soloist through the song. Effective pauses lent to an interesting sound. I also like the percussive “din-din” syllables in the beginning and end that mimicked the piano sounds nicely. This song could have gone very differently had the group tried to imitate Adele, but by being creative and making it their own, they succeeded.
The third song “End of Time,” by Beyoncé began with an interesting series of sounds by the girls in the group that got progressively faster. This song had the same energy of the first song, but with a bit more attitude, which I loved. Soloist Dani Amols had a lot of presence and sass but also sounded really great. She had several parts that were incredibly fast, and I give her a lot of credit for being able to get those words out. It was nice to hear the words of the song in the background vocals instead of just syllables. This was a great song for the group and showcased choreography, blend, and energy. It provided a strong finish for a very nice performance.
Reverb, an all-male group from Florida State University, went up fifth with black dress shirts and adorable powder blue bow ties. The boys began their set with a jazzy rendition of “I Wanna Be Like You: The Monkey Song,” from Disney’s The Jungle Book. There was a lot of depth in this arrangement, and the group was energetic without being over the top. I love the creative use of instrument sounds that the guys employed, especially the mock trumpets. Soloist Omar Nossair channeled the classic Disney sound with a Bruno Mars touch, and really played the character of the piece. Overall, this was a fun and swingin’ way to begin their set, without veering too far into overkill territory.
The second song was “Eleanor Rigby,” by The Beatles, and this piece had fantastic dynamic contrast and blend. Soloist David Ko took on the feel of the piece and did a really nice job keeping a very calm demeanor in the midst of a creepy and intense arrangement. You can feel The Beatles’ version, but the group took a darker twist, aided by their choreography, which fit the musicality of the piece very well. There were a lot of interesting touches, like the sounds that interchanged between vocal parts during the chorus. The vocal percussion for this piece was fitting and I liked the modern interpretation. The swells of the different chords were well-executed, and they locked in consistently.
The final piece in their set was “You and Me,” by Dave Matthews Band, and it was so refreshing to see an honest rendition of a song without too much theatrics. The bridge had a lot to offer, with the beautifully clashing chords and suspensions. A nice surprise in the mix was a special voice in falsetto, loved that. Again, the guys had a gorgeous blend and moved around the stage with confidence. My favorite part of the performance was the final chorus, with the whole group singing the lyrics in harmony. It was very strong and displayed the group at its peak. I was impressed by Keith Leslie’s vocal percussion again, as he seemed to give unexpected, but effective beats.
The sixth group to hit the stage was the first group of the night from the University of Central Florida Crescendudes. The guys were dressed in red and black. They took on a playful theme about being a kid and not wanting to grow up, which all college students can certainly relate to. Their song choices were a bit obscure, but fit well with the theme. “Playground,” by Sia started off the set with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. There were some pitch problems in the middle of the song that pushed the song flat. The vocal percussion was very energetic and bit over the top at times throughout the entire set.
They transitioned into Garbage’s “When I Grow Up,” which I thought was a little awkward, lyrically anyway. They definitely tried to work the appeal to a college audience, but I felt it was out of place for a competition. Soloist Josh Miranda did a nice job on the solo and had a little moment to shine in the middle of the song without any backing vocals.
Their third song was “Still Fighting It,” by The Sing-Off’s favorite judge, Ben Folds. This was not ones of my favorites, because the guys lost all their energy and stuck to simple “oohs” and “ahhs” that didn’t go very far, dynamically. The soloist made good use of the stage. The chorus helped pick things up and there was a good moment with “Old Man” by Neil Young in the middle, but pitch was a problem again.
The last song in the set was “The Gambler,” and interestingly, vocal percussionist Ryan Grajo took over the mic for the solo. He gave a dramatic and enthusiastic performance. The strongest vocals of the set came at the end of this piece when the guys were all lined up at the front of the stage. They sounded very together and strong, which is usually difficult to do in a straight line formation in a cappella.
Second to last in the lineup was University of Miami’s BisCaydence, a co-ed group. They came on with green and orange t-shirts and fun sneakers. They began their set with Bruno Mars’s “Grenade,” and soloist Christian Smith put a great spin on the solo with a lower range and none of Mars’s typical falsetto. Despite the differences, this was one of my favorite solos of the night, especially with the combination of Jess Nolan who came in later with a lovely alto part. The dual vocal percussion was a little strange, since they were doing the same beat. Had they been supplementing each other with different beats, I think it would have been more effective. The choreography was a bit distracting. Pretty good way to start the show.
The group came in with Rihanna’s “S&M,” as their second piece and soloist Alyssa Wilkins confidently led. Again, the choreography was very distracting and took away from the vocals and the solo. The chorus of the song was nice, with the ladies singing the same part in harmony and the guys holding down with a solid bass. The beat was a little overly excited and it felt like the group was pushing to speed up at times. I would have liked to see some more dynamic contrast.
The last song in the set was Gym Class Heroes’ “Stereo Hearts.” Soloist Jess Nolan was back again, and I really liked her old-school voice on this song. Also notable was the rap, which was fun. There was a lot of enthusiastic movement but as with the other songs, it became a little much at some points. The blend was a bit off in the song and some voices were more noticeable than others. I liked the breakdown in each of the choruses with the “oh’s.” Overall, a nice way to end their set.
The final group in this quarterfinals was the ladies of So Noted from the University of Central Florida. They sang “Nature Boy Part 1,” by Nat King Cole. They started with some mystery and suspense with good blocking and making use of the stage with sharp choreography. The solo was warm and jazzy.
They transitioned right into “I Write Sins Not Tragedies,” by Panic! At the Disco and the movements on this were a little stiff and intense for me. I think the previous song had much more effective choreography. I appreciate the creativity in making this song as dark as the lyrics calls for, but it was hard to enjoy the performance with such an angry demeanor. The soloist sort of “talked” much of the solo, but I liked it much better when she really sang it. She has very powerful voice that sounded great when she really went at it. The chords from the group sounded a bit weak at times.
I was very excited to see The Turtles’ “Happy Together,” on the set list as their third song, but this was not the kind of arrangement I was expecting. I like that they took a new approach and gave it some minor chords, making the audience wonder if they really were, “happy together.” The girls imitated a band at the end, complete with trumpets and violins (arm movements as well), for a cute ending to an interesting song.
Moving on to their fourth song, the girls did The Hush Sound’s “Lion’s Roar,” and the choreography on this one just did not do it for me. There was too much happening in back, and the soloist got lost in what was happening. I would have liked to see them stick to a few moves, rather than trying to force in a whole bunch that don’t add anything. The vocal percussion by Angele Maraj was solid here. The jerky movements and strange chords at the end were a little much for me.
Finally, we had their last song, which was actually the second part of their opener. The group had some good moments of blend and dynamic interest in this one. Again, the solo was lovely, especially during the moments where the group dropped out to let her shine. The end chord was a bit different, but it went along with the dark and mysterious theme that their entire set built up. The theme was solid and well-developed.
After the competitive groups were finished, The Staff took the stage back for a performance while the judges deliberated. This set included “Don’t Stop Me Now,” “Billie Jean,” and my personal favorite, “You and I” by Lady Gaga herself. While the judges were making their decision, I was busily forming my own for you all. I definitely felt like the Florida State University groups were going to duke it out for the tops spots. I know, I’m a University of Florida girl, but I give credit where credit is due. The top two spots were either going to be the AcaBelles or Reverb, but I wasn’t sure which would claim first place. The AcaBelles really had the entire package when it came to the performance and choreography, but Reverb gave a fantastic performance with a beautiful Beatles song. I felt like All-Night Yahtzee would definitely round out the top three by taking third place after a great performance with a lot of energy. I wish the judges had given a special category award for vocal percussion, because there were great standouts from No Southern Accent and All-Night Yahtzee, but especially from Reverb, in my opinion. I was definitely right in calling an FSU sweep, but my order was not as accurate. The audience was so excited to see Reverb taking home the title and the trip to Nashville, and the AcaBelles, who took second, were definitely justified in that position, as well as for their award for choreography.
Reverb wrapped up the ICCA South Quarterfinals with a beautiful performance of “Blackbird” by none other than the Beatles. Outstanding Solo winner David Ko rightfully took his place with the solo on this song, and he did a fantastic job. You could see the emotion on his face, as well as that of the group, and it came across so well in the performance. A well-deserved victory for FSU tonight!
Alexa Gedigian’s Picks:
1. The AcaBelles
3. All-Night Yahtzee
1. BisCaydence for “Grenade”
2. The AcaBelles for “Shake It Out”
1. The AcaBelles
2. No Southern Accent
1. The AcaBelles for “Gold Digger/For the Love of Money”
2. Reverb for “Eleanor Rigby”
ICCA Official Results:
2. The AcaBelles
3. All-Night Yahtzee
Outstanding Soloist: Reverb for “I Wanna Be Like You: The Monkey Song”
Outstanding Arrangement: Reverb for “Eleanor Rigby”
Outstanding Choreography: The AcaBelles for their entire set